The Oldest Member Of Congress Is Facing Calls To Resign, But Has Agreed To Step Back From An Influential Committee

Under pressure to resign the seat she has held for more than 30 years, Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced Thursday that she wants to temporarily step away from an important Senate committee because of continued ill health.

The 89-year-old California Democrat, who is the oldest member of Congress, has been away from the Senate since February because of a shingles diagnosis, missing some 58 votes. 

The senator’s spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle this week that she had been working at home while she recovers from the virus. 

But with the Senate set to reconvene on Monday after a two-week recess, there had been fears that her continued absence would halt work in the Judiciary Committee of which she is a member. 

After narrowly losing control of the House of Representatives to Republicans in last year’s midterm elections, President Joe Biden has been under pressure to continue to use the Democrats’ Senate majority to continue confirming as many federal judges as possible.

Given the Democrats’ slim majority, the committee hasn’t voted on any new nominees to the federal bench since Feb. 16. Under current rules, a tied vote in committee means a nominee can’t advance to a vote in the full Senate. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who became chair of the Judiciary Committee when Feinstein relinquished the role after criticism from activists, told Politico last month that he was “anxious” because they could not move new nominees forward without Feinstein returning. 

In a statement late Wednesday, Feinstein said she had expected to return to work by the end of March, but that “continued complications” had prevented her. 

“I intend to return as soon as possible once my medical team advises that it’s safe for me to travel,” she said in the statement. “In the meantime, I remain committed to the job and will continue to work from home in San Francisco.”

Acknowledging that her absence was complicating things for her colleagues, Feinstein said that she had asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to appoint another Democrat to the committee temporarily.